An introduction to the beguiling melodies of maftirim
In Turkey and Greece, as far back as the 16th century, groups of cantors and religious figures used to gather in the early morning, before prayer services, to sing devotional poetry in Hebrew. This gave rise to a distinct and complex form of music called maftirim, which only the most talented men could master.
These small gatherings were part of a broader musical exchange under the Ottoman empire: Muslim Sufi mystics would come to synagogue on the Sabbath to listen to the maftirim. And the Jewish maftirim singers would visit Sufi lodges for musical inspiration.
Professor Edwin Seroussi, director of the Jewish Music Research Center at Hebrew University, is one of the key scholars involved in unearthing, and reviving, the forgotten musical tradition of maftirim. Daniel Estrin spoke with him in Jerusalem about his journey of discovery, which led him to record some of the last surviving maftirim singers.